Seconds away from reaching the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League final, Ajax visit APOEL aiming to return to the group stage.
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Fresh from reaching last season's UEFA Champions League semi-finals, Ajax are looking to return to the group stage as they take on an APOEL side who are bidding to come through qualifying to reach the competition proper for the fifth time.
• Both teams survived tense ties in the third qualifying round to reach the play-offs, a round where both APOEL and Ajax have suffered disappointment in recent years.
• This first leg is the teams' third match, after they were paired together in the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League group stage. Following a 1-1 draw in Nicosia in which Lucas Andersen's 28th-minute opener for Ajax was cancelled out by a Gustavo Manduca penalty three minutes later, the Dutch club were 4-0 winners in the Netherlands on matchday six, Lasse Schöne scoring twice and Davy Klaassen and Arkadiusz Milik once each.
• That matchday six success meant Ajax finished third in Group F with five points, four more than APOEL, and went on to the UEFA Europa League, where they were eliminated in the round of 16.
• Joël Veltman played 90 minutes in both those matches for Ajax, while Giorgos Efrem featured in both for APOEL, with Tomás De Vincenti coming on as a substitute in Cyprus and Stathis Aloneftis doing likewise in Amsterdam.
• Champions of Cyprus for a record 28th time in 2018/19 – their seventh successive league title – APOEL are bidding to reach the group stage for the fifth time, and the second in three years.
• APOEL's best UEFA Champions League campaign came in 2011/12, when they topped their group and reached the quarter-finals before losing to Real Madrid. On their three other group appearances – in 2009/10, 2014/15 and 2017/18 – they finished fourth in their section.
• Last season they defeated Sūduva in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League; they went on to reach the UEFA Europa League play-offs before losing to Astana of Kazakhstan on penalties. It was the first time APOEL had failed to reach either the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League group stage since 2012/13.
• This season, APOEL overcame Montenegro's Sutjeska 4-0 on aggregate in the second qualifying round (1-0 a, 3-0 h) before a 3-2 comeback victory against Qarabağ of Azerbaijan in the third qualifying round; they parted company with title-winning coach Paolo Tramezzani after a 2-1 home first-leg defeat and appointed in his place Thomas Doll, who steered them to the 2-0 away victory in his first game in charge.
• The home defeat by Qarabağ ended APOEL's five-match winning run in UEFA matches at their own stadium.
• APOEL's record in UEFA Champions League play-off ties is W4 L2, although they have lost two of their last three. Most recently, they overcame Slavia Praha 2-0 on aggregate at this stage in 2017/18 (2-0 h, 0-0 a).
• Those 2014/15 meetings with Ajax are APOEL's only previous contests against a Dutch club.
• Ajax went all the way from the UEFA Champions League second qualifying round to the semi-finals in 2018/19, losing on away goals to Tottenham in the last four after conceding six minutes into added time to go down 3-2 at home and bow out after a 3-3 aggregate draw.
• The Dutch club won their last four away European games in 2018/19 – at AEK Athens (2-0), Real Madrid (4-1), Juventus (2-1) and Tottenham (1-0) – and were unbeaten on the road in last season's UEFA Champions League.
• Erik ten Hag's team lost only two of their 18 European matches in 2018/19 (W10 D6), when they became the first side in European Cup history to reach the semi-finals having come through three qualifying rounds and the first Dutch club to get to the UEFA Champions League last four since PSV Eindhoven in 2004/05.
• Ajax's record in UEFA Champions League play-offs is W2 L1 – both victories coming against Dynamo Kyiv, in 2010/11 (1-1 a, 2-1 h) and last season (3-1 h, 0-0 a). They lost at this stage to Rostov in 2016/17 (1-1 h, 1-4 a).
• Champions of the Netherlands for the 34th time in 2018/19 – their first league title since 2014 – Ajax also lifted the Dutch Cup to claim their eighth domestic double, and a first since 2002.
• They kicked off this season's UEFA Champions League in the third qualifying round, seeing off Greek side PAOK 5-4 on aggregate after a 2-2 away draw and a 3-2 home win secured by an 85th-minute Dušan Tadić penalty. The result in Greece stretched their unbeaten away run in Europe to ten matches (W5 D5).
• The Amsterdammers have won four of their six matches against Cypriot clubs (D1 L1), although their record in away games is W1 D1 L1 – the defeat a 4-0 loss at Omonia in the 1978/79 European Cup second round second leg after a 10-0 home success in Amsterdam.
Links and trivia
• Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored twice at the GSP Stadium in Schalke's 3-0 UEFA Europa League group win at APOEL in September 2015. Dutchman Boy Waterman was in goal for the home side, who had De Vicenti sent off late on.
• Waterman came through the Ajax youth system, although he never played for the first team. He represented Heerenveen (2001–07), AZ Alkmaar (2007–08), Den Haag (2008–10), De Graafschap (2010/11) and PSV Eindhoven (2012/13) in the Netherlands.
• APOEL's Reza Ghoochannejhad, who has joint Iranian and Dutch nationality, played for Heerenveen (2005–09, 2016–18), Go Ahead Eagles (2006/07, 2009/10), Emmen (2009) and Cambuur (2010/11) in the Netherlands.
• Have also played in the Netherlands:
Uroš Matić (NAC Breda 2014–16)
André Vidigal (Fortuna Sittard 2017–19)
• Have played together:
Reza Ghoochannejhad & Siem de Jong (Sydney FC 2019)
André Vidigal & Perr Schuurs (Fortuna Sittard 2017/18)
• Ajax technical director Edwin van der Sar was in the Netherlands side that beat Cyprus 4-0 in Nicosia in a FIFA World Cup qualifier in October 2000; Demetris Ioannou, father of current APOEL defender Nicholas, was in the home line-up.